Tom Eckel owned a diesel-repair business specializing in repower projects. He’d repowered his current Bertram 38 in 1999 for its previous owner, taking it from 18 knots at wide-open throttle with a 1974 original Cummins 903 to 22-knot cruise and 28 knots top end from two 435-horsepower Caterpillar 3208 TAs. “The boat has everything we needed for accommodations and comfort; I know all the systems and I’ve been caught in some bad weather and always felt safe,” Eckel says. He and his wife, Sabina, fish off Fort Pierce, Florida, and spend weekends in the Bahamas. In 2005 Eckel went to work for Volvo Penta as an applications engineer. “I always wondered what the boat would be like with pods,” he recalls. “It’s part of my nature, being a gear head.”
With Volvo Penta’s assistance, Eckel pulled the Cats and sold them for $28,000. He reinforced the hull around the pods so as to bear the forces. Eckel and other Volvo engineers carefully calculated and retained the old center of gravity by moving the generator forward into the newly spacious — thanks to the svelte, inline six-cylinder engines — and protected engine room.
If Eckel wasn’t his own contractor and didn’t work for Volvo, he’d have invested about $220,000 for the repower in a boat worth $150,000 with the Caterpillars. A better way to look at the numbers is that he’s got a 38-foot convertible with IPS for a considerably smaller cost than what similar boats sell for used. (Eckel’s Bertram was appraised at $570,000.)
So how does Eckel’s “new” Bertram compare with the old power? “On my first Bahamas trip, I made it there an hour faster than I ever had before,” he says. “I save enough fuel on the crossing [there and back] to pay for the [$350] cruising permit.” He reports improved steering in all sea conditions and says the already nimble Bertram is even more responsive when fishing. And around the dock, “I can hold the boat side-to in 20 knots [of wind] without a problem,” he says.